Gerlma Johnson

A former principal who spent 28 years working for the Detroit Public Schools pleaded guilty to bribery today, admitting she accepted roughly $22,000 in kickbacks from a vendor and spent the money two ways:  buying  jewelry, perfume and clothing for herself and helping her school.

“Other than the gift cards, it was used for the schools,” ex-DPS principal Gerlma Johnson said today in U.S. District Court, where she sought to explain how she spent the rewards she received for helping a vendor submit phony invoices for paper and other school supplies.

Johnson, 60, former principal at Charles Drew Academy and Earhart Elementary-Middle School, admitted that she accepted $22,884 in kickbacks as a thank you for helping  school supply vendor Norman Shy bill DPS for materials that were not delivered. Under the terms of her plea agreement, she faces 24-30 months in prison when she is sentenced in September.

In a faint voice, Johnson tried to explain to U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts that at least half of the kickbacks Shy gave her were spent on the schools, and that she personally received $10,000 in gift cards.

“You weren’t supposed to do that, right?” Roberts said.

The woman answered no.

“It wasn’t the right way to get (supplies) for your schools,” Roberts continued.

No, Johnson answered.

In addition to prison time, Johnson also has to pay $22,884 in restitution to DPS. According to Johnson, she accepted kickbacks from Shy for five years, from 2009 through 2014, knowing that he was billing DPS for materials that were never delivered.

Shy also was charged in the case and has a plea hearing set for 2 p.m. today.

According to court documents, at Shy’s direction, Johnson would provide Shy with a letter on school letterhead requesting a gift card to make the kickbacks look legitimate. The two often met to discuss the kickbacks that Shy owed Johnson, who received at least eight prepaid gift cards ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, records show.

Johnson retired on April 30, one month after being charged alongside 12 other principals, an assistant superintendent and Shy.

Johnson and Shy are among 14 defendants who were charged in March with running kickback schemes that cheated DPS students out of $2.7 million in school supplies over 13 years. So far, eight defendants have pleaded guilty: seven principals and one assistant superintendent. All face prison time.

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